How utilities can stop bad bills before they go out
CenterPoint Energy experienced every billing manager’s nightmare when the email notification for their February utility bills went out with a major error. A data misalignment issue resulted in some 27,000 consumers receiving emails showing that they owed an amount of $202,102.16.
Understandably, this caused a lot of negative attention on social media with agitated consumers venting their concern and frustration at the error. Some even shared screenshots of their bill on social media, warning other customers (erroneously) that it was a phishing scam.
A statement issued to the media by CenterPoint acknowledged the error and attributed the power outages in Houston as the cause of the glitch. The utility assured customers that they did not owe the amount showing for their electricity and that this was an email messaging error, not a billing error.
But CenterPoint had already suffered the reputational damage of bad utility bills, due to all the negative online attention. And as a result, their customers are now wary of trusting future bills.
The reputational damage of bad utility bills is irreversible
The impact of sending a bad bill or wrong information can be very difficult to counteract – especially in the age of instant information via social media. People are quick to point out a problem, and hardly ever give the resolution the same level of attention or exposure. Even once the issue is resolved, evidence thereof remains available online and will be there forever.
Unfortunately, bad news travels much faster and wider than good news. Some CenterPoint customers thought the error was a phishing attempt and warned their followers as such on social media. It wasn’t, but the warning would have been seen by hundreds of people, who most likely would not see any follow-up messages that refuted the claim.
The effect of this is losing customer trust. If the utility can make that kind of mistake on a billing message and send it to customers, what other mistakes are being made?
Stop bad utility bills before they go out!
Although CenterPoint’s issue was not a billing problem, using a bill verification tool that looks at more than just the basics before the bills are sent out, makes a huge amount of sense. A sophisticated bill verification tool will identify potential errors and flag problematic bills for review based on various rules.
Put another way, there is a significant benefit to using a single platform that manages the generation and distribution of both the bill and email notification, using the same data.
A sophisticated bill verification tool can identify potential errors and flag problematic bills for review based on various rules. Certain rules (as described below) are applicable for all accounts, but the tool must also cater for customization right down to the account level.
Auditing parameters that are specific to each account, as part of the bill verification process will eliminate the highest proportion of bad bills.
Examples of universal bill verification rules:
- Bills that are greater than or less than a standard amount for all rate classes.
- Bills wherein the current reading minus the previous reading with the multiplier do not equal the usage being billed.
- Bills that have current month usage more than double or less than half the usage from the same month last year.
Refine and automate bill verification to avoid bill errors
Sending bad bills causes issues for customers and utilities alike, but getting to the bottom of billing exceptions requires specialist skills and not every utility has the expertise, tools, and time necessary to really minimize errors.
Using a web-based management tool to refine and automate the bill verification processes addresses bad bills during the billing process. This, in turn, removes friction from the customer experience, reduces service costs, and even helps to avoid payment delays.
Partner with an experienced utility billing provider
Appointing an experienced billing and payments partner will assist in defining your bill exception criteria to identify issues that will have the most impact.
Once you have a queue of bills for review, the bill auditing tool can streamline the review process and proceed to deliver or reject bills with a single click. This reduces the operational load for the utility and removes friction from the customer billing experience.